Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Glee's Sugar not so sweet

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I am a total Gleek. My husband and I faithfully DVR every new episode to watch undisturbed. In our house Glee is an event. We put the boy to bed, grab our snacks, turn off the phones and settle in for an hour of laughter, drama, and music. There are times when we have to hit pause just so we can spend ten minutes delving into philosophical conversation about the relationship between Sue and Will.  We found that ourselves almost pooping our pants in anticipation of this season's premiere episode.

Image from Gleewiki
Something odd occurred during the season premiere: We saw our kid on television. Okay, not really our kid, but someone like our kid. Her name is Sugar Motta, a "self-diagnosed" aspie girl.  My jaw hit the floor when she said "... which means I can pretty much say whatever I want. " because my boy just went through this phase. (Part of the reason why I haven't had time to post is because he decided having Asperger's could give him a free pass to do and say whatever he liked. Thankfully, we have moved past that for the most part.)

I won't get into how offensive it is to hear over and over again that there is something wrong with having a "stereotypical" aspie kid. If  there is anything I have taken from this debate it's that the autism community does not accept stereotypical aspie kids or their parents. 

I can't say I know what the writer's intentions with this charcter is or what the future will hold for her. What I can say is that I recognized some of my kid in her. Spoiled, check. Egotistical, check. Rude, check. Smart-mouthed, check. Manipulative, check. Of course, he's not that way all the time, but he certainly has those moments-- a lot of them in the past month. One of his biggest challenges is learning not to tell people how much smarter and more skilled he is than his peers. Most of the time it's true, but there are times when he over-estimates his abilities landing him in a socially awkward pickle. His reaction is much like Sugar's reaction to being rejected membership in the glee club. She calls Will a "Broadway wanna-be", then angrily storms off. Been there, done that.

I can say that after watching the second show I'm sure Sugar isn't autistic. My god, she gave out a hug without a thought to someone she hardly knew! My kid would never, ever do that unless it was family. He hugs family because that is his routine. Does that make me hate the character? Nope.  It wouldn't be the first time Glee faked a disability--remember Tina and her stuttering? I'm okay with that because being a regular teenager is hard and you couldn't pay me to go back.

Now most of the autism community is outraged by this portrayal of a self-diagnosed autistic young lady using AS to as a free pass. Sugar was not a well received character. Twitter, Facebook, the entire Blogosphere was all abuzz with criticism. The character is viewed as stereo-typical and insulting to those with Asperger's. For a good summation of those thoughts and feelings, I suggest Beth Arky's post at The Child Mind Institute. I'm not going into detail, mostly because I'm feeling lazy and want to eat my gyro leftover from last night's dinner.

I happen to hold the less popular view that Sugar is an interesting character. I don't find myself taking offense, maybe because I am raising a stereotypical aspie kid? Or maybe because I'm okay with television writer's taking liberties with things that effect humans. I'm certainly more okay with Sugar than I am with journalist saying autistic kids lack empathy. That really gets up my nose. I don't watch Glee to be educated; I watch it to be entertained. It's great when a work of fiction gets us thinking, actually I prefer that, but I don't get my facts from hour long musical show.

I think what surprises me most about this debate is the fact that the autism community took a first impression and made a very harsh judgement. One thing I've learned from autism is that a first impression isn't the the time to pass judgement. You just don't know what's underneath the surface in five minutes of character introduction.

I think the autism community is having a knee-jerk reaction, which I can understand. Getting people to really and truly understand autism is hard, hard work. There's a lot of discrimination, a lot of "you're just saying that so your kid's behavior is excused". I get that. I've lived that. Yet, does a history of experiences with others' knee-jerk reactions justify us having our own?

Julia Bascom's blog post, Just Stimming, makes a very good point that I will leave you with (and I reccommend you read her entire post on the subject):

Anyone who thinks that Sugar’s actions won’t be addressed hasn’t been paying attention to how the show works for the past two years. Anyone who thinks that her plot has anything to do with actual autism, or the issue of self-identification in the autistic community, is putting assumptions into play that the show has never expressed an interest in. And anyone who thinks she is written as actually autistic, as some parents have been suggesting, has some serious ableism of their own to unpack.

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